Bestselling author and relationship expert Harriet Lerner dances with the Seven Questions. This project surveys several influential authors, theorists and policymakers on the same seven questions to illuminate the diversity in modern psychotherapy. No two therapists are exactly alike, a hypothesis Dr. Lerner's direct, no-nonsense answers support.

Harriet Lerner (Ph.D. City University of New York) is one of the world's most respected voices on the psychology of women and family relationships. For more than three decades she was a clinical psychologist at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas, and a faculty member of the Karl Menninger School of Psychiatry. She has appeared on national radio and television programs including Oprah, CNN, and NPR. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, and her monthly advice column appeared in New Woman magazine for over a decade. She currently has a private practice in Lawrence, Kansas.


Her 10 books include The New York Times bestseller The Dance of Anger, The Dance of Intimacy, The Dance of Fear, The Dance of Connection and Women in Therapy. Her two award-winning children's books, co-authored with her sister, are Franny B. Kranny, There's a Bird in Your Hair! and What's So Terrible About Swallowing an Apple Seed?

Dr. Lerner's books have sold three million copies and are frequently recommended by therapists because her writing is so insightful, direct and relatively free from jargon. Her style is clearly reflected in her straightforward responses below. I particularly appreciated her views on question 3, the mistakes therapists make. Therapists often miss the fine line between too much and not enough talking, distance, empathy and allegiance to theory. I'm grateful to Dr. Lerner for taking the time to share her wisdom.

Seven Questions for Harriet Lerner:

1. How would you respond to a new client who asks: "What should I talk about?"

"What would you like to talk about?"

2. What do clients find most difficult about the therapeutic process?

The fact that I can't change their husband (mother/sister/son/etc), and the fact that change is often a slow, bumpy process.

3. What mistakes do therapists make that hinder the therapeutic process?

Therapists make an endless variety of mistakes: They say too much or too little, they are too distant or too over involved, they cling rigidly to one theoretical perspective or have no theoretical perspective at all, they lack empathy or they over-do it.

4. In your opinion, what is the ultimate goal of therapy?

The ultimate goal of therapy is to accomplish the client's goals. Of course, clients' change their goals and come up with new ones along the way.

5. What is the toughest part of being a therapist?

The toughest part of being a therapist is that you constantly run up against your limitations.

6. What is the most enjoyable or rewarding part of being a therapist?

The most rewarding part of being a therapist is that you always have the opportunity to push your limits. (That is, you can keep learning and the work is a lesson in humility.) And, of course, it's a privilege to be someone's partner in the process of self- exploration and change.

7. What is one pearl of wisdom you would offer clients about therapy?

There are countless therapists with different belief systems who work in different ways, so if one therapist or therapy isn't helping you, another might. It is never a personal failing when you don't find a particular therapist helpful, even if this therapist has helped other people you know. Trust your instincts and remember that you are the best expert on your own self.

About the Author

Ryan Howes

Ryan Howes, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, writer, musician and professor at Fuller Graduate School of Psychology in Pasadena, California.

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